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The Siren's Song: The Big Business of Ringtones

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Ring-ring, it's for you! The cell phone is bringing quantum leaps in telecommunications technology. Ironically, it's the ringtone that gotten our attention the most. Everyone seems to have a personalized ringtone these days, but have we stopped to consider the ramifications? Matthew David shows you how the telecommunications companies are making money hand-over-fist from ringtones.
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This summer, England has a new plague. No, it's not frogs or locusts. It's a ringtone. To be more specific, it is the "Crazy Frog" ringtone. This ringtone has become so popular that it was put to music, and, shortly afterwards, shot straight to #1 on the British Billboards—beating Oasis's new track "Lila!" The world has gone crazy for ringtones and telecom companies are making a fortune.

How It All Began

You have to go back to the good old days of Alexander Graham Bell to find out why ringtones are so popular today.

Originally, a phone's ring was devised as an alarm to catch your attention so that you would know to answer the incoming call. The simplicity of this reasoning has changed over time, most dramatically when cell phones hit critical mass. Suddenly a key selling feature for a cell phone was the ability to switch up the quirky MIDI-like sound clips used for incoming calls. Today you can almost run any sound clip on your cell phone. Cell phone personalization is all the rage. Personally, I switch between the theme song to the "A Team" and one of the high-pitched squeals uttered by R2-D2 (yeah, my wife really loves that one).

Far from a mere alarm, ringtones are now even sometimes seen as an extension of who you are. But are we being hoodwinked by the cell phone companies? Well, more on that in a bit.

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